Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cinque Terre

You can barely see, but there are people lying on the rocks and reading. I want to live there!

Cinque Terre was one of my few absolute must-sees while on this trip, so when I realized last weekend that it might be my last chance to make it there while the weather is still warm, I made a semi-spontaneous trip on Saturday. For the very small amount of planning that went into the day, it turned out surprisingly well: from dragging my roommate out of bed at 8 AM after 4 hours of sleep to barely making the train and not even being sure it was the right train, we managed to happen upon easy train connections that made for an overall smooth trip (minus the inexplicably pricey train ticket for a 20 minute ride that was only 2 euro on the way back).

The first of several tunnels. This one was especially cool.

Astoundingly delicious.

Te la do lo la merenda -- literally, "I'll give you a snack"

We weren't sure exactly what we wanted to do once we got there, and reading the guidebook on the train was largely abandoned in favor of sleeping, so once we arrived at Riomaggiore (the first town), we stumbled around until we found a Rick Steves-recommended pizza place and had the best. pizza. ever. Focaccia bread was apparently invented in Cinque Terre, so focaccia pizza in Cinque Terre is quite possibly the best food ever made. From there, we "hiked" (more of a light stroll) the Lover's Path to Manarola, the second town, which was absolutely stunning. In Manarola we discovered that the path to Corniglia, the third town, was closed, and neither the shuttle bus or train would be arriving for an hour. We had kind of wanted to try the ferry anyway, so we decided to buy tickets straight to Monterroso, the last town, so we could spend some time on the beach. The views from the boat were absolutely stunning, and while I'd like to hike the whole way someday, it was definitely more relaxing in the heat to see the coastline from the water.

Locks everywhere. I liked the heart shape.

Incredible view from Lover's Walk.

It doesn't even seem possible that the water is really this color. 

View from the ferry.

Arriving at Monterroso. 

Once we got to Monterroso, we explored the town for a little bit while looking for the train station to figure out when we'd need to leave, and then got some gelato to eat on the beach. Eating gelato by the Mediterranean Sea is probably one of my new favorite activities. The water wasn't as warm as I had hoped, but just having the experience of swimming in the Mediterranean and then sitting on the gorgeous beach was incredible. As Marie said, Huntington, eat your heart out!

Church in Monterroso. I love the stripes on churches throughout Italy. 

View of one of the beaches as we walked to get gelato. 

So refreshing!

We went for focaccia pizza for dinner again (couldn't resist) and even brought back a loaf of delicious focaccia bread (much of which was devoured on the train. oops.). Coming back went smoothly, and even though we should have been exhausted, we rallied and met up with some friends for our roommate DeeAnne's birthday.


Last view of the day.

Although powering through last weekend was definitely worth it, it does mean that I am STILL sick. I was hoping to be better by this weekend since I leave for Oktoberfest tonight (!!!), but at least I'm pretty sure I'm on the upswing. My voice is back after about 4 or 5 days of sounding like a dying frog, and I slept through most of last night without too many coughing fits. So, I'm hoping I can sleep through the whole overnight bus trip tonight and wake up energized and ready to explore the beer tents of Munich! Here goes the beginning of my 21st birthday weekend...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pizza chef

On Monday night, we had a pizza making class with a chef at the restaurant Il Teatro! It was SO much fun and I'm pretty sure I've found my new calling in life. The dough and sauce were already made of course, but we were taught to shape the dough and then covered it with whatever toppings we wanted (four cheese, obviously). Also, I think the chef hat is pretty attractive.

Taking the pizza out of the (very hot) wood burning oven.

Finished product!

We also finally made it to the San Lorenzo leather market this weekend! So far all I've bought is the belt I'm holding in the picture, but I'm definitely planning what else I want to be sure to get before I leave. Knowing me, I may have to narrow the list down a bit.

New belt and roomies with their new messenger bags. 

I've also been feeling sick off and on since I've been here, so I'm trying to get extra sleep but it's difficult with so much going on all the time. But with the weekend coming up hopefully I can fight it off quickly!

Friday, September 16, 2011

The weekends begins

Finally, it's the weekend! It seems like we have been here so much longer than a week, and I am excited to have a weekend that is not chock full of pre-scheduled activities so I can relax and get to know Florence a little better on my own. That said, we do intend to visit the San Lorenzo leather market, hang out on the banks of the Arno, and visit the Pitti Palace at some point this weekend. I also have to go to the Accademia to observe statues for my English class, which I'm looking forward to -- just not with all the tourists around!

Today, we went to Fiesole on a group trip, and it was a really charming, quaint little town. I definitely want to go back. We didn't go inside any of the churches as we were all wearing shorts and tank tops, and you typically have to dress more modestly to go inside churches here, but we found out too late that no one was checking visitors' apparel at these churches. So, since it's only about a 20 minute bus ride from Florence, I want to return and see the inside of the Duomo there and the other churches, which are supposed to be gorgeous.

Beautiful view of Florence/Tuscany

Me, Marie and DeeAnne

Blu Bar where we had our crepes

Nutella crepe -- I really want to try this in Paris!

We first walked to the top of a long, steep hill to see the lookout over Florence and some more of Tuscany, which was completely stunning. Then we walked around the little town square and went to a restaurant called Blu Bar with a beautiful view for crepes and coffee. It was almost time for lunch then, so we just looked at the outside of the Duomo, which they had unfortunately just closed for visitors right as we walked up, then into the cutest shop selling stationary and other souvenirs. I bought a little ceramic duck, as did 4 of my other roommates, since we call each other ducks -- Marie and I, as the mama ducks, are always leading the "little ones" around the city, so we call them our ducklings. We can be found boisterously quacking around the streets of Florence.

Town square

Fiesole Duomo

Different lookout on the way to the pizzeria -- Katreina, me, Kristen and Marie

After we walked about a mile down to the pizzeria where our professor had made a reservation, I had a delicious 4 cheese pizza with an inexplicable olive right in the middle. Before coming here, I was never a fan of thin crust pizza, but as that's just about all there is in Florence, I now love it. But, I'm also very excited to try deep-dish pizza from Naples.

Olive on my pizza?

Tonight, we're going out with a group from the program, but before then I need to find chocolate and/or gelato, something I don't think I should ignore any longer today...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Week One

My view of the Ponte Vecchio walking home from school

So I have just about finished my first week of classes and everything is going swimmingly! I actually have Italian for 2 hours every day, which is great because it will help me get a better grasp on the language, but bad because 2-4 is prime naptime and tends to follow a delicious meal that only makes me sleepier. If only I liked coffee.

But, I am learning! My favorite word so far is piacere -- meaning literally "pleasure" (I think), it's used when you're meeting someone -- "molto piacere" or "piacere mio" -- or for please -- "per piacere." My English class is also very enjoyable, and surprisingly one of the easiest to stay awake for, considering that it's from 9-10:30 and my earliest class. My film class only meets once a week, from 10-1 on Wednesdays, and that is also a struggle to stay awake for 3 hours in one cramped chair. But, it's also really interesting. Our teacher for that class is Italian, which is an added bonus. The first movie we watched was Rome, Open City, which was very sad but very good. I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of real Italian cinema and getting a better feel for the culture and history of this country.

I've also been out for a lot of great meals (and gelato), of course. My favorite meal so far was our first at Trattoria Nella. I had spinach and ricotta ravioli with walnut sauce and my roommate Marie ordered gorgonzola gnocchi and we shared. A. Ma. Zing. Which is not to say that everything else hasn't also been has. We had a welcome dinner on Tuesday where they gave us more food than I've ever seen in my life -- appetizers, two pastas, main course, and dessert! We made friends with the waiters, who at first seemed very stand-offish, but were actually extremely sarcastic and funny (in a picture below). We've also been to this little place called Pizza ToTo' about 4 times so far for pizza by the slice and calzones for quick lunches, and it is soooooo good. I don't know how I ever lived without daily access to this kind of food. Not to mention all the new gelatos I'm trying, such as Bucalenti, a Florentine cream flavored gelato available at a tiny gelaterie around the corner from my apartment. It tastes like sweet butter, which I know sounds awful, but you have to try it to understand.

Ravioli with walnut sauce at Trattoria Nella

Marie and I in front of the Duomo at night

Welcome dinner picture with the waiter (me, Marie, waiter, Kristen, and Katreina from left to right)

Of course, I've also been sure to stock up on bread and cheese to make grilled cheese at my apartment. It's interesting having grilled cheese made with provolone, but surprisingly good. They also sell the most amazing, cheap brie at the supermarket right by my apartment, and I've already gone through more of that than I care to admit. I'm really hoping to make it to the Mercato Centrale soon for fresh bread, cheese, and fruit, but with weekend plans up in the air and class every day, it's been harder than I expected.

I feel like I'm learning my way around the city fairly quickly. It's amazing how fast I stopped feeling like a tourist -- crossing the Ponte Vecchio on the way to school I get annoyed with the crowds of people stopping to take pictures everywhere and I have to remind myself that was me just a few days ago. But, knowing my sense of direction, or lack thereof, I am glad that it's been pretty easy to find everywhere I need to go, and it's been fun learning new ways to get to school, restaurants, and landmarks. It's strange that just a week ago it was confusing weaving our way to the Santa Croce, and now I know exactly where it is in relation to school, my favorite chocolate gelato, and the 99 cent store.

Beautiful sunset above the Arno

Another update is that we did a little roommate shuffling, meaning that I now have a single room! I love all of my roommates, but I also love time to myself, and having already done the roommate thing when I moved to the dorms in SLO, I'm now happy to take my own space whenever available.

Well, I have class again at 2 (last class of the week! I can't believe it's already been a week), and I want to squeeze in a nap, lunch, and some travel planning before that, so I'd better go. I'll try to update more often; I'm assuming/hoping things will calm down a little more after this first week. Tomorrow we have a half-day trip to Fiesole, where they promise it will be a little cooler, and I'm hoping to hang out on the banks of the Arno and explore the rest of the city some more this weekend.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I have arrived!

View of the Arno from our taxi ride to our apartment

I'm here! Traveling went smoothly (I slept practically the whole way) and although we had to wait a while at the airport to get taxis to our apartment, it was worth it -- the apartment is gorgeous!!! There are six of us in a four bedroom, two bath place and it is so cute. We have a marble staircase leading up to our apartment, tile floors everywhere, and it already feels homey. Well, aside from the fact that the kitchen light blew out as soon as we got here. 


My room with roommate Katreina opening the window

Our beds (mine is on the right of this picture)

The loooong hallway of our mansion when you come in :)

One side of the living room (huge couch!)

My roommates Marie (left) and DeeAnne (right)

Roommate Jessica

Roommate Erin

It's taking forever to upload pictures to here, so I'm not going to put a ton more now. But after unpacking and showering last night, we went to dinner in a cute little square about 20 seconds from our doorstep for amazing pizza and friendly Italian service :) Then we walked across the Ponte Vecchio (gorgeous at night and not as crowded!) and over near the Uffizi, where there was a guy playing guitar and people milling around in the big, beautiful square. When we came back we did some more unpacking and skyping with friends and family, which meant we didn't actually get to bed til after 2 AM.


Ponte Vecchio all closed up at night

That led to me sleeping through my alarm this morning. My water clock, while very cool, has a very quiet alarm and no snooze function, so if you miss it the first time, you're out of luck (meaning I missed skyping with my mom :( ). Luckily they supplied some other alarm clocks so we can set multiple ones in the future. Once my roommate woke me up, I got ready speedily and we headed to the Santa Croce to meet up with the rest of the group for orientation.

They showed us the school where we'll be having our PCC classes (beautiful room) and the ABC Language School as well. I found out that I only have an hour of Italian each day, meaning the most hours I'm ever in class is 4 hours on Wednesday. Monday I only have one hour of class...tough life.

When we finished with the orientation presentation, my roommates and I got gelato for lunch and huge water bottles. We went to a gelato place I had gone to last summer and loved with my family; I'm glad it was easy to find again! I got two different pink kinds of gelato (Lampone and Fragola I think?). I didn't know what the names meant but they were delicious!

Gelateria dei Neri

Now I am back at my apartment and about to take a nap before we head out for our walking tour at 2 PM. It's weird to think that everyone back at home is sleeping now as it's verrryyy early morning for you.

Overall, I am having a fantastic time so far and not feeling too jet-lagged -- just a little sleepy since we went to bed so late last night. So, naptime for me, more later!